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Does Lyme disease affect the liver?

When the body is fighting an infection, it is common for liver enzymes to rise. Because Lyme disease is the fastest-growing tickborne illness, it is crucial to understand how it can impact the liver and the rest of the body.

Does Lyme Disease Affect the Liver?

When a deer or black-legged tick attaches to a human, it searches for a place on the body where it can best access your blood, which it feeds on for survival. While feeding, it transmits the Borrelia burgdorferi bacteria that causes Lyme disease to your bloodstream.

Once in your system, bacteria multiply and spread throughout the body in various stages. In each stage, the liver is impacted in some way.

The Stages of Lyme Disease

The early localized stage typically appears within the first thirty days of contracting Lyme bacteria. The second stage, early dissemination, may not appear for days or weeks after stage one and may last for many weeks and months. Late dissemination is the third stage; its symptoms can linger for months and even years.

Each stage of Lyme disease is associated with many symptoms. In the early stages, you may notice flu-like symptoms, including chills, sweats, goosebumps, fever, and headaches. Other symptoms include stiff neck, swollen lymph nodes, fatigue, and a bullseye-shaped rash.

Stage two Lyme disease symptoms include worsening of symptoms from stage one, plus facial paralysis or Bell’s palsy. You may also experience rashes on different body parts, nerve pain, numbness, poor coordination, chest pain, shortness of breath, heart palpitations, and joint or muscle pain.

Stage three Lyme disease consists of severe symptoms, including worsening of those from the first two stages. Also, you may have cognitive difficulties, arthritis, and nerve damage.

Stages of Lyme Disease and the Liver

Hepatocellular, meaning of the liver, symptoms, and injuries occur with Lyme disease. The liver is affected in each stage in the following ways:

  • Stage one—when your immune system activates to fight Lyme bacteria, it signals inflammation to find and eliminate the bacteria. When your liver detects inflammation, it releases proteins, causing liver enzymes to increase. It is common for people with stage one Lyme disease to have at least one abnormal liver test.
  • Stage two- If left untreated, the liver may become a place in the body where Lyme infection exists. You may experience abdominal pain and symptoms that mimic hepatitis, including pain or bloating, dark urine, pale stools, itching, jaundice, and appetite changes.
  • Stage three – symptoms can worsen unless you are adequately treated for Lyme disease. The longer you have Lyme disease, the more likely it is that you can experience liver damage.

Coinfections and the Liver

Ticks carry multiple types of bacteria, not just Borrelia burgdorferi. Unfortunately, coinfections can also impact the liver. Below are examples from one study of how Lyme disease and its coinfections impacted participants’ livers.

 

Does Lyme Disease Affect the Liver? - Lyme Mexico

 

Hepatocellular 

Hepatocellular means related to liver cells, typically when damaged by infection. Hepatocytes are necessary for liver functions such as metabolism, detox, maintaining balance, and activating the immune system. They are also associated with liver inflammation. Lyme disease is considered a hepatocellular or liver injury.

Coinfections that produce liver damage include:

  • Babesiosis

Babesiosis causes the liver to enlarge and, if left untreated, can lead to liver failure, destruction of red blood cells, and weaken the immune system.

  • Tickborne relapsing fever (TBRF)

Bacteria associated with TBRF can quickly travel to the liver, causing damage in cluster-like patterns and destroying viable cells. This can lead to necrosis, which is the death of liver cells and tissues. TBRF is sometimes confused with and misdiagnosed as Lyme disease.

  • Q fever

Q fever causes your white blood cells to malfunction, focal necrosis of the liver, and acute hepatitis. Most experience a rise in liver enzymes and jaundice. It can also cause liver tenderness and liver inflammation. 

Cholestatic

Cholestasis occurs when bile flow from the liver slows or stops altogether. A bacterial infection can cause this. Backed-up bile can lead to liver inflammation and produce symptoms such as jaundice, pale poop, fat in stool, skin itching, abdominal pain or cramping, appetite changes, nausea, vomiting, and fatigue.

Coinfections commonly associated with cholestatic liver damage include: 

Someone with RMSF may think they have gastrointestinal problems when it may be liver malfunction due to an infection. You may also experience anemia and elevated white blood cell counts. Some may have infections in the endothelial lining and liver sinusoids.

  • Ehrlichiosis or Anaplasmosis

Ehrlichiosis and anaplasmosis have similar symptoms and can drastically reduce white blood cells, which fight infections. They can also decrease blood clotting cells and increase liver enzymes.

  • Tularemia

Tularemia causes the liver to enlarge. Also called rabbit fever, it can cause white spots on the liver, spleen, and lymph nodes. Most people develop jaundice, and on occasion, tularemia can lead to liver abscess, granulomatous hepatitis, and ascites. 

Treatments for Livers Affected by Lyme Disease

Getting an accurate diagnosis from a rare and infectious disease doctor is essential to ensuring you receive treatments that work. Also known as Lyme-literate doctors, they specialize in diseases that cause liver damage.

Treatments must include several weeks of antibiotics, usually doxycycline, but this may not be enough for everyone. Lyme-literate doctors offer alternative therapies to ensure all bacteria are removed from your body. Alternative treatments work by:

  • Exchanging infected blood components (white or red blood cells, platelets) with donated, healthy ones.
  • Destroying biofilms and other bacterial protectors to destroy all parasites and pathogens.
  • Boosting your immune system to function as it should when eliminating bacteria.
  • Detoxing your liver and body safely to support healthy immune function.
  • Making lifestyle changes that support a healthy liver.

Finding the Right Doctor

Lyme-literate doctors have special qualifications, including vast research, education, and experience in treating patients with rare and infectious diseases. They are well-known and are members of organizations such as the International Lyme and Associated Diseases Society (ILADS). At Lyme Mexico, our doctors meet these criteria and more. They aim to improve your quality of life using the most advanced methods. Call them today to learn more.

Consider traveling outside the United States, Canada, and the UK to Mexico to meet with a top clinic, Lyme Mexico. Learn more about coping with Lyme disease or schedule an evaluation. We can discuss your symptoms and the alternative treatment options that work.

 

Does Lyme Disease Affect the Liver? - Lyme Mexico

 

Check this out!

Listen to Dr. Morales’s interview on the Tick Boot Camp Podcast!

Episode 405: Lyme Mexico – an interview with Doctor Omar Morales

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